Improved animal evaluation enables better dairy breeding decisions

February 10 2020

More accurate genetic evaluations, drawing on ten years of New Zealand and international research, will be available to dairy farmers from February.

New Zealand Animal Evaluation Limited (NZAEL) Manager Dr Brian Wickham says dairy farmers are set to benefit from an enhanced genetic evaluations system that underpins the national breeding objective and evaluations farmers use to make breeding decisions.

“It will enable farmers to breed cows that are more efficient at converting feed into milk and profit. This has benefits for our environment and economy,” says Dr Wickham.

Breeding companies LIC and CRV are collaborating with DairyNZ subsidiary NZAEL on this project which will replace genetic evaluation software with a nationally consistent, independent genetic evaluation system for dairy cattle.

Dr Wickham says there will be multiple improvements as part of the new software release, called NZAEL 2.0. Two of the most significant changes are better recognition of trait differences between breeds, in particular for fertility, and the removal of the effect of inbreeding[1] on breeding values. This work has been funded by levy investment from DairyNZ, and by LIC.

“While inbreeding depression can negatively affect an animal’s performance, this effect is not passed on to the next generation of animals,” explains Dr Wickham.

“These changes support our national breeding objective and, when completed in 2021, will represent the greatest improvement to the animal evaluation system since the introduction of breeding worth (BW) in 1996,” he adds.

Dr Wickham says the reports farmers will receive from their breeding companies from February onwards will look very similar. The main difference will be that some farmers may see their animals re-ranking on BW as genetic evaluations become more accurate.

The previous genetic evaluation model, NZAEL 1.0, was developed by LIC in 2006, and adopted by NZAEL for the wider industry. The new system incorporates LIC’s latest software and models, and NZAEL research and development. It has been extensively tested and scrutinised by internationally renowned geneticists.

A scientific advisory committee, with animal genetics experts from New Zealand, Australia, Ireland and the Netherlands has also peer reviewed and endorsed the upgraded system, which has been rigorously tested. 

Anna Kempthorne, a Te Anau farmer and NZAEL director, is the chair of the 12-member Farmer Advisory Panel who reviewed and tested the changes to the system.

“The new system contains a number of enhancements which will result in more accurate and timely information,” says Ms Kempthorne. “This will enable improved breeding decisions to be made which benefit farmers and the dairy industry.”   

“We now have new software available that can compute larger quantities of data and give us greater insights into animal performance which enables farmers to improve the performance of their herds overall by breeding more productive and efficient cows,” says Malcolm Ellis, General Manager NZ Markets at LIC.

“The upgrade in genetic evaluation software will provide more accurate predictions of animal genetic merit,” says Jon Lee, National Sales and Marketing Manager, CRV Ambreed. “This information forms the foundation for CRV’s genomic evaluations and allows us to continue to breed bulls for New Zealand conditions.”

The updated animal evaluation system is the first step towards February 2021 when NZAEL, in continued collaboration with LIC, CRV and DairyNZ, and other industry stakeholders, plans to complete another system upgrade. This further upgrade will include genomic data in the national evaluation system.

[1] In general, inbred animals will perform more poorly than the average of their parents for a wide range of traits. This reduction in performance is called inbreeding depression. Inbreeding depression is a non-additive genetic effect. These effects will not be inherited by the animal’s offspring, and so the depression in performance is disregarded when computing an animal’s estimated breeding value.

Note: images of representatives quoted in this release are available on request.  


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